If any of the hundreds of people at Thursday night’s Warner Sound showcase traveled to Austin specifically to see Wayne Coyne’s signature man-sized plastic bubble, they wasted a trip. The Flaming Lips’ SXSW headlining set was all about the music — bad news for lovers of puppets and confetti, great news for fans of the band’s 30-year run of lush, experimental rock.
Also good news, probably, for Lori of New Mexico; she is “usually more comfortable in a Presbyterian church than at something like this,” but along with her husband she danced her way through six hours and seven bands’ worth of dreamy, beat-driven alternative rock at Warner Sounds’ final night sponsored by Nikon.
While the appearance of monster-costumed host Gorburger, from the YouTube series, may have signaled a typically surreal Flaming Lips show, he was the first and last of the furries to appear; the band opened with a straight-ahead performance of “Fight Test,” the first track from 2002’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” — which Coyne then announced the band would attempt to play in its entirety, or mostly, before the night was through. Though some in attendance probably expected to hear a preview of tracks from the band’s upcoming album “The Terror,” due April 2, the crowd was full of fans who hollered enthusiastic approval.
“In case you’re wondering when we’ll play [the album’s lead single] ‘Do You Realize,'” said Coyne, “if we start to run out of time, we will play it, I promise. If I don’t talk too much and fuck it up.”
By 2 a.m., the Lips did manage to get through all but the last song of the spacerock epic, much to the ecstatic thrill of the Belmont’s full capacity crowd, including the first-ever live performance of “Are You A Hypnotist?”. Before “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” Coyne described a 1987 trip through Germany where the band was listening to the radio and heard “some wicked fucking music.” When it was over, Coyne said, the DJ “said a lot of things in German but he said something that sounded like ‘Ego tripping through the gates of hell.’ So we searched for years and years for a song we thought we’d heard, but never found — but we said, that’s such a great title, let’s come up with our own.”
The Belmont’s patio was packed long before the Flaming Lips’ set, thanks in part to British quartet Alt-J, whose harmony-rich, dreamy dub pop won them the 2012 Mercury Prize. They admirably followed a truly crushing performance by Welsh band The Joy Formidable, whose frontwoman Ritzy Bryan knocked down everything around her with guitar goddess magic. So much magic, in fact, that two girls in the crowd started pouring glitter on themselves during the climax of set closer “Whirring.”
The night of consistently danceable alt-rock also featured vintage pop from Guards, a highly interactive set from Florida’s Surfer Blood, vibrant, disco-driven rock from Australia’s Atlas Genius, and an emotional performance from Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit, returning to SXSW for the first time in three years.
“It’s nice to be back at the zoo,” said frontman Scott Hutchison, echoing the feelings of many who are lucky/brave enough to get to Austin for the music marathon, which still has two more wall-to-wall days to go.
Watch Video From the Sound City Showcases: